Big Split in Bayou: Blacks, Conservatives Drive La. Vote

An abundance of older white voters gave Hillary Clinton some help in the Louisiana Democratic primary Saturday, although not nearly enough to seriously challenge Barack Obama's vast advantage among African-Americans in the state.

On the Republican side, a record turnout of self-described "very" conservative voters — their greatest share in any 2008 primary to date — boosted Mike Huckabee, as did young voters and the majority presence of evangelicals, his core support group.

But older voters kept John McCain competitive, as did the nearly three in 10 who were focused on experience and electability. Huckabee won young voters by 22 points, but McCain won seniors by 14 points — and they were more than twice as prevalent.

There were no exit polls in Saturday's caucuses, in Washington, Nebraska, Kansas and the Virgin Islands.

Big Split in the Bayou

In Louisiana, the Democratic results extended the sharp racial split that divides the party.

Clinton won whites — men and women alike — by a 28-point margin, 58-30 percent. Obama answered with more than 6-1 support among blacks, 86-13 percent; at 48 percent of Democratic voters, they proved an unassailable voting bloc.

Louisiana's share of black voters has been surpassed only in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, all states Obama also won.

Here as elsewhere, the presence of blacks in the Democratic primary stands in sharp contrast to their absence in Republican contests — just 4 percent in Louisiana, and just 2 percent in all GOP races to date this year, versus 19 percent in all Democratic contests combined.

Youth Miss Vote Again

Young voters, a generally pro-Obama group, were in short supply, with under-30s accounting for just 10 percent of the turnout, toward the low end in Democratic primaries this year.

Twice as many were 65 and older, and white seniors — a Clinton group by 69-24 percent — outnumbered black seniors by more than 2-1. (While elsewhere Clinton has been particularly strong among older white women, in Louisiana she did well among older white men and women alike.)

There were relatively few late deciders — only about one in 10 decided on election day, while 51 percent said they made up their minds more than a month ago, more than in almost any previous primary.

Obama won all the time-of-decision groups, but those who decided between last week and the last month went for him most heavily by far.

Less Liberal, Economy on Top

The Louisiana Democratic electorate was notably less liberal than elsewhere – about a third identified themselves as liberals, compared with 49 percent in all primaries to date.

Obama generally has done better with liberals, but in Louisiana he did as well among moderate and conservative Democrats.

The top issue in Louisiana, as elsewhere, was the economy.

Nearly half of Democrats called it the single most important issue in their vote; about three in 10 said it was the war in Iraq; about two in 10, health care.

And, again as elsewhere, by far the most desired candidate attribute was the one who can best "bring about needed change"; it beat both empathy and experience by 40-point margins, and Obama won those "change" voters by 74-21 percent.

Obama's advantage among blacks crossed other demographic lines; among whites, though, there was one notable difference: He did much better among white independents (45 percent support, though they were few in number) than among white Democrats, 25 percent.

Conservatives, Evangelicals Deliver for Huckabee

As noted, conservatives and evangelicals predominated in the Republican contest, with more than half the voters, 57 percent, describing themselves as evangelical Christians, and 71 percent as conservatives.

Though well below the peak turnout of evangelicals (77 percent in Alabama, 75 percent in Arkansas, 72 percent in Oklahoma) it was again a critical group for Huckabee, who won them by 56-31 percent, while losing non-evangelicals to McCain by a similar margin.

Southern evangelicals previously have won the day for Huckabee, who before Saturday carried four Southern primaries on the strength of their support.

In a related result, a large share of Louisiana Republicans, 44 percent, described themselves as "very" conservative, compared with a previous 2008 high of 40 percent in Nevada (excluding Iowa, where the question was asked differently). Within Louisiana itself, that's sharply up compared to the 2000 and 1996 primaries.

Huckabee won these very conservative voters by 54-30 percent, underscoring McCain's continued trouble in this core Republican group. The two split "somewhat" conservative voters; McCain again won moderates, here by a 27-point margin.

As with other voters this year, the most important issue for Louisiana Republicans was the economy, cited by one third of voters, with illegal immigration, the Iraq war, and terrorism tied at about two in 10 apiece.

Half said the most important quality in a candidate was that he share their values, again the No. 1 attribute by far, and Huckabee won those voters by 3-1. But among the 27 percent who picked either experience or electability as the top attribute, McCain crushed Huckabee, 86 percent to 8 percent.

  McCain won veterans, 47-39 percent, and in a related result that's been an advantage for him all year, Louisiana Republicans by a 22-point margin said he's most qualified to serve as commander-in-chief.

One final result underscored the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana: A third of Republicans, and 43 percent of Democrats (49 percent of blacks, 43 percent of whites) described the hurricane as having caused their families severe hardship.

Bob Shapiro and Patrick Moynihan contributed to this report.

Note: The original version of this analysis was based on third-wave exit poll data, which later was updated with a final weight to actual vote preferences. While such final weights customarily produce small changes in the data, the weight in the Louisiana Democratic exit poll produced much larger-than-usual changes, for example, shifting Clinton's share of the white vote from 70 percent to 58 percent.